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Japan Business News: The Week Ahead

Japan's third-biggest consumer electronics maker has unveiled a plan to ally with an overseas company and one of the country's most popular casual-wear retailers will start a new line of business.

Sanyo Electric says it has formed a broad business tie-up with the Haier Group, the largest home appliance maker in China. Under the deal, the two firms will market their products in each other's countries and cooperate in production. Sanyo says this is the first time Japanese and Chinese electronics firms have agreed on a wide-ranging partnership.

Fast Retailing, Japan's top casual wear firm known for its popular Uniqlo brand, is now expanding into the food business. Fast Retailing's president, Tadashi Yanai, said at a news conference the company will begin selling high-quality vegetables later this year. "For the continuing growth of our company's future, we have taken the food business into consideration because it relates to customers' daily lives," he said. "We believe that we can create a new market by controlling everything from production to retailing."

Mr. Yanai added that the vegetables will be raised by farmers under contract and will be sold in a new retail chain and by home delivery.

The Japanese unit of U.S. investment bank, Merrill Lynch, says it will slash 1,200 jobs and close 20 branches across the country. The move comes as the unit loses about $150 million a year amid Japan's economic slowdown.

Merrill Lynch had taken over some branches and more than 2,000 employees from the collapsed Yamaichi Securities in 1998.

In the auto industry, Toyota remains the best-selling brand in the country. The Japan Automobile Dealers Association has announced that Toyota's Corolla was the most popular passenger car here in 2001 for the 33rd year in a row. Five of Toyota's models are listed among the top 10 selling cars. A company spokesman says its strong marketing efforts are the key to the Corolla's continuing popularity.

Ahead this week, Tokyo hosts a trilateral meeting on improving economic cooperation within Asia. According to the Japanese foreign ministry, officials from Japan, China and South Korea will gather for the talks.